Bol.com has the courage to take on the top gun



Whatever the future status of intellectual property, most e-commerce sites will need to offer it in some form or other. In particular, a Web site without...



Whatever the future status of intellectual property, most e-commerce sites will need to offer it in some form or other. In particular, a Web site without content is not going to last very long.

A case in point is the ambitious Bertelsmann Online group of sites selling books, CDs, videos etc (www.bol.com)

Taking on Amazon.com requires guts - and a very good site. When Bol.com was first launched, it had plenty of the former, and practically no trace of the latter. Today, things have improved, not least because Bertelsmann's approach is drawing ever-closer to that of Amazon's in terms of both design and content.

So alongside short descriptions and Bol.com reviews, there is also space for readers' comments. However, it is noticeable that these are still much thinner on the ground than at Amazon.com - and that Bol.com is the poorer for it.

Things are compounded by Bertelsmann failing to exploit its unique strengths, which arise from the multi-lingual approach it has adopted from the start. For example, when browsing books in one language/country, it would be interesting to see what related books are being chosen by those on sites serving other languages - and whether translations are available. This would add a richness that Amazon.com would find hard to match (currently at least).

The other aspects of the site are effective enough. The design is very Amazon-like, and the check-out process efficient and well-signposted.

Bol.com falls down on its relatively thin content - the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) site, created by a group in Wales, was originally pure content and only added commerce afterwards (www. imdb.com). As it happens, the IMDb was acquired by none other than Amazon.com, which obviously recognised the latent value of all that content.

As you might expect, IMDb offers plenty of chances to buy videos, DVDs and soundtracks as you browse its comprehensive holdings. What it is less good at is delineating where content stops and commerce begins. Too often, the Amazon.com ads emerge out of the IMDb text. If visitors to e-commerce sites are to trust the content, they must know that it is fully independent from the sales pitch alongside.

The other aspects of IMDb show its Amazon.com heritage in a positive sense. The design is very good, and the purchasing process dovetails into the main site neatly enough.

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